Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings movie posterSynopsis
Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is heir to the villainous Ten Rings organization, an inheritance he does not want. After escaping and hiding for several years, Shang-Chi faces the Ten Rings again to stop his father (Tony Leung), the leader of the ancient organization, from unleashing an evil that could destroy the world.

Review
After the epic scale of Avengers: Endgame, it is a nice change of pace to come back to stories that are smaller and more personal. Black Widow might have been the first film released in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), but chronologically, it was before Avengers: Infinity War. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first film in the future proper of the MCU. And in the same vein of Phase One’s Iron Man, it takes place on a small scale and very personal level but opens the door for a much larger future.

Not too long ago, I went through the entire series of Kim’s Convenience, where Simu Liu plays the character of Jung Kim. It’s jarring to see him transition from a comedy role to an action role; I imagine it is the same feeling fans of The Office felt when they saw John Krasinski first play Jack Ryan. Anyway, Liu performed the action parts just as well as he did the comedy parts. His star power is quickly on the rise and I can’t wait to see more of him in the MCU.

As much as I like comedy, one thing that MCU films have had difficulty with is finding a good balance between humor and seriousness. Thor: Ragnarok is one example of an offender of this. However, Shang-Chi was able to balance these aspects much better than many of its predecessors. It helped that rather than have every character be the comedy relief, that role mostly fell on the shoulders of Awkwafina. Awkwafina as Shang-Chi’s friend (not love interest) Katy helped balance the film well. She had her comedic moments but they weren’t overbearing and never took away from the more sincere or somber moments. I hope future MCU films take note of this character and how to handle comedy in superhero films going forward.

Many comic fans did not like the Mandarin’s portrayl in Iron Man 3. I’m not a die-hard fan of the character of Iron Man so I enjoyed the character twist in that film. I especially like the follow up one-shot, Long Live the King, which follows Trevor Slattery after the events of Iron Man 3, which teased the appearance of the real Mandarin. Slattery, played by Ben Kingsley, is an entertaining character that Kingsley completely morphs into and always gets a laugh out of me. I was ecstatic to see him incorporated into the story in this film, especially after the previously mentioned tease at the end of Long Live the King. Kingsley once again plays the character to perfection and created some of the best laughs of the movie.

Way back in my State of the MCU Address, I stated that I wanted Shang-Chi to embrace its character’s roots and fully embrace the martial arts action side of things. And in that regard, this film did not disappoint. Every set piece was exciting and packed with exhilarating action sequences. It really channeled the Kung Fu roots of the character and let loose.

Like I said before, I’m not overly attached to the Mandarin character, and that also applies to his iconic ten rings. However, one thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the way the titular objects were portrayed in this movie. In the comics, I like to equate the rings to the infinity stones, albeit much less powerful, where each ring grants the wearer a unique ability. When combined and used together, the user is granted enormous power. But in this film, they became more physical in nature, not granting any special powers, other than not aging and physical power. I can understand the change, it might have taken up too much extra time explaining the rings’ powers or trying to find ways to incorporate the rings’ powers into the story, so the change might be benefial to the story, but it is disappointing to see the potential of the rings overlooked.

I thought Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was GOOD πŸ™‚ Phase 4 of the MCU has provided a fresh start while building inside what came before and this film has taken full advantage of that. It’s self-contained but offers a path into something greater going forward. The action is top-notch and the comedy is one of the best in the franchise in a long time. While it doesn’t quite make it to the top echelons of the MCU, it is an adventure that is well worth the time.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Destin Daniel Cretton – Director / Screenplay / Story
Dave Callaham – Screenplay / Story
Andrew Lanham – Screenplay

Simu Liu – Shaun / Shang-Chi
Awkwafina – Katy
Tony Leung – Xu Wenwu
Meng’er Zhang – Xialing
Ben Kingsley – Trevor Slattery
Fala Chen – Li
Michelle Yeoh – Ying Nan
Yuen Wah – Master Guang Bo
Florian Munteanu – Razor Fist
Jayden Zhang – Young Shang-Chi
Elodie Fong – Young Xialing
Arnold Sun – Teen Shang-Chi

Red Notice Review

Red Notice movie posterSynopsis
After FBI Agent John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson) captures the art theif Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), he is framed by another thief known as The Bishop (Gal Gadot). To clear his name, Hartley must work with Booth to find the famed three eggs of Cleopatra before The Bishop can.

Review
I don’t know whose bright idea it was to put Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot in the same movie, but they should get a raise! Johnson, Reynolds, and Gadot are three of the most charismatic actors today and together they do not disappoint. Their chemistry is impeccable, especially between Johnson and Reynolds. I cannot even begin to describe how much fun I had with this film. It’s simple and straightforward, while still containing a few fun and unexpected twists and turns. At just about 2 hours long, it has a good pace and never feels like it’s dragging or going too fast. Overall, the story is nothing special but the movie more than makes up for it with its leading trio and charm.

I thought Red Notice was GREAT πŸ˜€ It’s part heist film, part action film, part adventure film, and part comedy film. What more could I ask for?

Trivia
The movie has a budget of around US $200 million which is Netflix’s biggest budget ever yet for a feature film. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rawson Marshall Thurber – Director / Writer
Steve Jablonsky – Composer

Dwayne Johnson – John Hartley
Ryan Reynolds – Nolan Booth
Gal Gadot – The Bishop
Ritu Arya – Inspector Urvashi Das
Chris Diamantopoulos – Soto Voce
Ivan Mbakop – Tambwe
Rafael Petardi – Security Chief Ricci

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon ReviewSynopsis
When the Transformers learn that an ancient Cybertonian ship is on the moon, the Autobots must race to discover its secrets before the Decepticons do.

Review
After the disappointment of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I went into the third live-action Transformers film with caution. Thankfully, Transformers: Dark of the Moon seems to have learned after Revenge of the Fallen and treats the audience with more respect. The humor isn’t as immature as before. In fact, there is not as much humor as there was previous films in the franchise. Whereas the last two films had jokes coming from multiple sources, this movie primarily relies on Shia LeBeouf to carry that aspect of it. Instead, it takes itself much more seriously, which ends up helping overall because the story is much bigger and epic than before. Like Revenge of the Fallen, it goes bigger than the films before in a true sequel fashion. This focus on the story and characters rather than the childish humor creates a much more engaging and exciting experience.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the definition of a β€œblockbuster” movie. It’s big, it’s loud, and it takes you on an adventure. It isn’t as glob-spanning as Revenge of the Fallen but that’s okay. While the world trotting grandeur isn’t there, the action is much bigger, which is saying something considering the last film. The best part is that this movie does a much better job of framing the action scenes around the robots than the previous films. There are still multiple close-ups during the fights making it tricky to see everything but for the most part, the camera stays further back, giving a better view of the fight, especially against the backdrop of Chicago during the final act.

I thought Transformers: Dark of the Moon was GOOD πŸ™‚ Just like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen went bigger than Transformers, Dark of the Moon goes bigger than Revenge of the Fallen. Even though the film is longer, the story is much more focused and the humor is much better, being toned back severely and being more serious in general. Overall, it is a vast improvement on all counts than the let down of its immediate predecessor in the franchise.

Trivia
According to ILM, the company employed its entire rendering machinery to use on the film. This added up to using more than 200,000 rendering hours per day, the equivalent of 22.8 years of render time in 24 hours. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Michael Bay – Director
Ehren Kruger – Writer
Steve Jablonsky – Composer

Shia LeBeouf – Sam Witwicky
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley – Carly
Josh Duhamel – Lennox
John Turturro – Simmons
Alan Tudyk – Dutch
Tyrese Gibson – Epps
Patrick Dempsey – Dylan
Frances McDormand – Mearing
Kevin Dunn – Ron Witwicky
Julie White – Judy Witwicky
John Malkovich – Bruce Brazos
Ken Jeong – Jerry Wang
Glenn Marshower – General Marshower
Peter Cullen – Optimus Prime (voice)
Jess Harnell – Iron Hide (voice)
Robert Foxworth – Ratchet (voice)
James Remar – Sideswipe (voice)
Francesco Quinn – Dino (voice)
George Coe – Wheeljack (voice)
Tom Kenny – Que / Wheelie (voice)
Reno Wilson – Brains (voice)
Leonard Nimoy – Sentinel Prime (voice)
Hugo Weaving – Megatron (voice)
Charlie Adler – Starscream (voice)
Frank Welker – Soundwave / Shockwave (voice)
Keith Szarabajka – Laserbeak (voice)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen movie posterSynopsis
As Sam (Shia LeBouf) heads off to college, he is once again pulled into the Transformers’ war when an ancient being known as β€œThe Fallen” (Tony Todd) makes his return to Earth.

Review
After greatly enjoying Transformers, I was excited to see Optimus and the rest of the Autobots return in another live-action outing. With Michael Bay returning and his pension to go big, I was expecting much of the same but more of it in the sequel. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen definitely takes a sequel’s β€œgo bigger” approach to heart but the rest is left wanting.

As I said in my review of Transformers, the Transformers have had multiple cartoon series over the years since Generation 1 came out in the 1980s. Transformers pulled primarily from the original incarnation but something I really liked about this sequel is that is also pulls much from the later series as well. Things like Energon being a fuel for Transformers, Optimus Prime and Jetfire combining, the first Primes and The Fallen, and a transformer having multiple vehicle modes are all pulled from later Transformers cartoons. There is a rich history in the multiple series over the years and the film pulled from many of them that a fan of any Transformers series is sure to recognize something.

Taking place a couple years after the first film, many new Transformers have made their way to Earth and are introduced in this film. With the expanded robotic cast, not many of them are expanded on. Much like the original series, the movie only focuses on a handful of characters while the rest are there to look cool and show off the latest car models at the time. However, since the human characters are the most important in this story and most of the time is focused around them, I’m not too worried about learning everything about every Autobot and Decepticon that is in the film.

Like the first film, Revenge of the Fallen has a pretty lengthy run time. This time, however, the pacing feels more smooth. There are still plenty of explosions and much exposition but the transitions between the two wasn’t as jarring as the film before. However, it’s a catch-22 because more time is spent making sure the transitions feel better but with that comes a feeling that there is too much packed into this film.

I am not one to be turn away from a film because of toilet humor or if it goes for the easy joke. However, this film was very juvenile, even for me. I understand that this is based around a children’s show (something I have brought up before) but that’s no excuse to treat the audience like children.

I thought Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was OK 😐 After enjoying the first live-action Transformers film so much, I was disappointed in its sequel. While I liked aspects of this movie, there was so much excess of everything that it squandered what I did enjoy. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, but I wasn’t expecting such a let down either.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Michael Bay – Director
Ehren Kruger – Writer
Roberto Orci – Writer
Alex Kurtzman – Writer
Steve Jablonsky – Composer

Shia LaBeouf – Sam Witwicky
Megan Fox – Mikaela Banes
Josh Duhamel – Major Lennox
Tyrese Gibson – USAF Chief Master Sergeant Epps
John Turturro – Simmons
Ramon Rodriguez – Leo Spitz
Kevin Dunn – Ron Witwicky
Julie White – Judy Witwicky
Isabel Lucas – Alice
John Benjamin Hickey – Galloway
Glen Morshower – General Morshower
Rain Wilson – Professor Colan
Peter Cullen – Optimus Prime (voice)
Jess Harnell – Ironhide (voice)
Robert Foxworth – Ratchet (voice)
Andre Sogluizzo – Sideswipe (voice)
Reno Wilson – Mudflap (voice)
Tom Kenny – Skids / Wheelie (voice)
Mark Ryan – Jetfire (voice)
Hugo Weaving – Megatron (voice)
Charlie Adler – Starscream (voice)
Frank Welker – Soundwave / Devastator / Reedman (voice)
Tony Todd – Fallen (voice)

Transformers Review

Transformers movie posterSynopsis
When Earth becomes a battleground between two factions of a warring alien race, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) must help Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his team of Autobots defeat the evil Megatron (Hugo Weaving) and his Decepticon forces.

Review
The original 1980s Transformers cartoon (often referred to as Generation 1 or G1) was a cornerstone of many childhoods for those who grew up at that time. Over the years, many iterations of characters such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, and the rest of the Autobots and Decepticons have made their way to the hearts of many other generations of children, including myself. I remember being extremely excited when a live-action Transformers film was announced. I enjoyed Transformers back in 2007 and still enjoy it today.

Before I get started, I want to say that yes, Transformers is far from perfect. But remember, this is based on a children’s show, which itself was driven by the Transformers toy line. The Generation 1 series in particular was wild and all over the place in terms of characters and story. Could the story have been created in a way that honored the original 1980s series but still felt updated? Absolutely. But with Michael Bay at the helm, that most likely wasn’t going to happen. There is also plenty of corny dialogue that would make anyone who considers themselves highbrow would scoff at. However, taking it for what it is, this is an enjoyable film for a laid back afternoon.

With Bay directing, you can expect lot of explosions and big action pieces. Given this movie stars giant talking battling robots, β€œbig action” is an understatement. As the characters trek across different landscapes throughout the world, each action scene presents its own unique action piece. My biggest gripe against many of the action sequences is it can be hard to always see everything happening in the fight. Often, the camera will zoom close to the characters while they are brawling. Since many of them look similar up close it can be hard to discern what exactly is going on. These robotic beings are stories tall so it would be cool to see the scale of their battles compared to the buildings around them.

There is plenty of humor throughout the film. Something I have found after multiple viewings (I’ve lost track how many times I’ve seen this film) is that it doesn’t necessarily hold up. Some jokes still make me chuckle but most barely get a reaction out of me now. The movie is nowhere near as funny to me as it used to be. Thankfully this is an action movie, not a comedy, so the humor not holding up isn’t as big of a concern of mine.

While the cast is fairly large, there were a few stand outs. Firstly, is Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Ron and Judy Witwicky respectively. Whether together or individually, Dunn and White brought so many laughs and bring a bit of groundedness to a movie filled with building-size fighting robots. The other stand out performance was from the always humorous John Turturro. His over-the-top performance fits right in with the goofy nature of the film.

Peter Cullen is the voice of Optimus Prime in the Generation 1 Transformers television series. His return to the role in the live-action version of the character is a huge and rewarding bit of fan service. Hearing Cullen’s booming voice on the big screen feels right. Hugo Weaving voices Megatron and is a perfect fit for the character. It would have been great to see Frank Welker, the voice of Generation 1 Megatron, reprise his role but if he had kept the same voice as the cartoon counterpart, it would not have worked for this version of the character. Luckily, Weaving did a fantastic job bringing Megatron’s malice to the live-action iteration of the character.

Since this was assumed to be the start of a franchise, Transformers actually did a good job of keeping the story small and contained, building the world of Transformers. There were times where the exposition felt heavy but it also balanced well with the action and the rest of the film. Although that leads into my biggest complaint of the film: its length. At almost two and a half hours (including the end credits), it just feels like there is too much of everything; too much exposition and too much time spent in the action scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lot of action pieces in an action movie. Here, however, the scenes overstay their welcome.

I thought Transformers was GREAT πŸ˜€ This isn’t a deep piece of cinema but it does exactly what it set out to do: introduce the Transformers and their universe to the big screen. As long as you take this film for what it is supposed to be, popcorn entertainment based on a children’s show with very little plot, then you will find a lot to enjoy and maybe even having a good time.

Trivia
The military provided their vehicles as the alternate modes of the Decepticons Starscream and Bonecrusher. They also allowed their F-22 and CV-22 aircraft to be filmed[.] Soldiers served as extras, and authentic uniforms were provided for the actors. In return for the favor, the filmmakers provided an advance screening of the film to the soldiers, free of charge. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Michael Bay – Director
Robert Orci – Screenplay / Story
Alex Kurtzman – Screenplay / Story
John Rogers – Story
Steve Jablonsky – Composer

Shia LaBeouf – Sam Witwicky
Megan Fox – Mikaela Banes
Josh Duhmel – Captain Lennox
Tyrese Gibson – USAF Tech Sergeant Epps
Rachael Taylor – Maggie Madsen
Anthony Anderson – Glen Whitmann
Jon Voight – Defense Secretary John Keller
John Turturro – Agent Simmons
Michael O’Neill – Tom Banacheck
Kevin Dunn – Ron Witwicky
Julie White – Judy Witwicky
Peter Cullen – Optimus Prime (voice)
Darius McCrary – Jazz (voice)
Robert Foxworth – Ratchet (voice)
Jess Harnell – Ironhide / Barricade (voice)
Hugo Weaving – Megatron (voice)
Charlie Adler – Starscream (voice)
Jim Wood – Bonecrusher (voice)
Reno Wilson – Frenzy (voice)

Mortal Kombat (2021) Review

Mortal Kombat (2021) movie posterSynopsis
Cole Young (Lewis Tan) finds himself embroiled in a multi-dimensional tournament known as Mortal Kombat, fighting for the fate of Earth.

Review
Adapting a movie from a game franchise has had notoriously poor results. Some have fared okay while most have been disastrous. Thankfully, the latest adaptation of the popular fighting game of the same name finds itself on the better side as far as video game adaptations go. Mortal Kombat is by no means a thought-provoking or life-changing movie, but it does provide a good two hours worth of popcorn entertainment. The film opens with a brutal scene set in seventeenths century Japan, setting up that this film will be just as violent as the game series it is adapting. This movie actually does a good job of balancing the action scenes with character scenes. Unfortunately, because the film does provide a lot of time for character development, there are pacing issues towards the latter portion of the film when the movie finally gets to, and rushes through, the β€œtournament.”

The Mortal Kombat games have been around for nearly 30 years and has a roster consisting of dozens of characters that the film can pull from. Thankfully, it only uses a handful of these characters as to not overwhelm the story with trying to fit as many characters as possible. There are bound to be fan favorites left out but if they’re lucky, they’ll see their favorite characters in any potential sequels. There are also many easter eggs and homages throughout Mortal Kombat that audiences are sure to pick up, whether they are casual or hardcore fans of the games. Some of these call outs did feel forced but overall their inclusions were a nice touch.

I thought Mortal Kombat was GOOD πŸ™‚ If you are a fan of the game franchise, there is going to be a lot here that you’re going to enjoy. The focused cast, stylishly violent action sequences, and plenty of humor from Josh Lawson combine for a fierce and entertaining ride from start to finish.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Simon McQuoid – Director
Greg Russo – Screenplay / Story
Dave Callaham – Screenplay
Oren Uziel – Story
Benjamin Wallfisch – Composer

Lewis Tan – Cole Young
Jessica McNamee – Sonya Blade
Mehcad Brooks – Jax
Josh Lawson – Kano
Ludi Lin – Liu Kang
Max Huang – Kung Lao
Tabanobu Asano – Lord Raiden
Hiroyuki Sanada – Hanzo Hasashi / Scorpion
Laura Bent – Allison
Matilda Kimber – Emily
Jose Taslim – Bi-Han / Sub-Zero
Chin Han – Shang Tsung
Sisi Stringer – Mileena
Mel Jarnson – Nitara
Nathan Jones – Reiko
Daniel Nelson – Kabal
Ian Streetz – Ramirez